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Jul
15 2011

Are you breaking the 7%-38%-55% ‘Rule’?

Syndicated from: The Essential Message

Are you breaking the 7%-38%-55% ‘Rule’… If you’ve ever been told (or taught) that content is only worth 7% of your overall communication — and that body language and tone of voice are more important than content — then you’ve been fed the same misquoted communications research that I hear time and time again. In this Essential Message, I am going to set the record straight so that the next time someone tries to feed you the same misquoted research, you don’t have to stomach it. The original work was done by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a social psychologist at UCLA. In research carried out in 1967 and then outlined in his book, Silent Messages, he described the impact of different factors in communication. He was especially interested in ‘congruency’ — that is, how listeners get information about a speaker’s general attitude (positive, negative, neutral) in situations where facial expression, tone and words might send conflicting signals. That last bit of the sentence is important, because that’s the key piece that Dr. Mehrabian was testing, and that’s the key piece that most people forget when applying the so-called ‘rule’. Check this out from Wikipedia: It is emphatically not the case that non-verbal elements in all senses convey the bulk of the message, even though this is how his conclusions are frequently misinterpreted. Dr. Mehrabian’s conclusion was that in his highly controlled, face-to-face laboratory experiments, when conflicting signals are given by the communicator, the listener will assess the communication according to the following weighted averages: Body Language: 55% Tonality: 38% Actual words: 7% The rule gets a bit tenuous when you take into account that Dr. Merhabian’s study did not include any men. What’s more, other types of nonverbal communication, e.g. body posture, were not included in the studies. Therefore, it’s simply incorrect to say, for example, that 38% of the information conveyed in a spoken message is carried in the tone. And the assertion that ‘what you wear is more important than what you say’ — which a fashion consultant told me — is utter nonsense. Say what you mean; mean what you say. So here’s the Essential Message point of view. If you want to communicate more powerfully, there is one ‘essential’ bit of learning you can take away from Dr. Mehrabian’s research and all the research since his groundbreaking study: you’ll be most impactful, persuasive and convincing when you don’t just say it, you also show it in your body language and tone of voice — like when you really mean it! (grin) That’s why it’s so important to develop messaging that’s not just interesting to the listener, it must be authentic to the communicator. But I bet you knew that already… Essentially yours, Michel Neray Chief Differentiation Officer The Essential Message  

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